Pursue What Matters
Episode 3: The Gifts of Vulnerability
Please excuse any typos, transcripts are generated by an automated service
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:00
Hello, and welcome to Pursue What Matters. I’m your host, Dr. Melissa Smith and today we are going to talk about vulnerability and how this can be a gift in your life. I know I know you’re thinking vulnerability and gift should not go in the same sentence. But after today’s podcast, I have a feeling you will understand that the gifts of being vulnerable can change your life, and definitely for the better. So let’s jump in.
Dr. Melissa Smith 0:30
Hi, I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Welcome to the Pursue What Matters podcast where we focus on what it takes to thrive in love and work. Today we’re going to talk about the power of vulnerability. This is such a great topic, but definitely a topic that most of us shy away from we do not like the thought of vulnerability. So we all dread it, we all avoid it. And yet it is an essential part of being human vulnerability really brings us face to face with our shame, and our fear of being lovable. So Brene Brown, who she’s a researcher, and a storyteller, but she’s really taught the world so much about what it means to be vulnerable. She teaches that vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings, to feel is to be vulnerable. So she says to believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness, to foreclose on our emotional life out of out of a fear that the costs will be too high, is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. So she also teaches that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. Finally, she says, if we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
Dr. Melissa Smith 2:21
So there you go. I mean, vulnerability is pretty darn important if we are to believe Brene Brown. And I think we should believe her because she is the foremost researcher on vulnerability and shame. And her research has really informed our understanding of vulnerability what it means to live a meaningful and wholehearted life. So a very basic definition of vulnerability from Brene Brown is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. So right vulnerability is something we really don’t like. And yet as she, as she teaches, it is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, and empathy. And it is really how we connect to one another. So as humans, we are hardwired for connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 3:12
So let me tell you a little bit about some monkeys. So there was an experiment done decades ago with Rhesus monkeys, and it was an experiment looking at attachment. And what they did is they had these baby monkeys, and they had a situation where they were looking at the attachment of these monkeys, to some wire made monkey mothers, that which is like really hard to explain. But you can, you can actually find YouTube videos of these studies or, you know, pictures online of these experiments. And so they created these wire mesh, monkey mothers, where these baby monkeys could climb on these wire mesh monkey mothers, and they would have, you know, a bottle with milk attached to these wire mesh monkey mothers. And so these baby monkeys could get their nutrition and nourishment from these bottles from these mothers. And so they had two different conditions, this experimental condition set up and in the one condition, they had the wire mesh monkey mothers with the bottle with milk, and so the monkeys could get the milk from these wire mesh mothers. And then the other condition was the wire mesh monkey mother, but they just put a soft cloth over the wire mesh But they did not have any of the milk. So there was no bottle. So the monkey wasn’t able to get any nourishment. But they were able to have the soft cloth on this monkey mother. And what they found was that these baby monkeys chose affection, and connection. So they chose these soft, comforting, soothing, soft monkey mothers over nourishment. And one of the arguments from this study was that the drive for connection is even more primal than is the drive for nourishment. And that it is the same for us that As humans, we are hardwired for connection, and that this drive for attachment is a core part of what it means to be human.
Dr. Melissa Smith 6:00
So what does this have to do with you and I? So first of all, as humans, we connect to one another in our vulnerability, right? That’s how that’s actually how we connect. So think about it. When you see someone who you perceive to be perfect, you may admire them. And you may wish you could be like them. But you probably don’t want to be close to them. You don’t necessarily feel comfortable being real with them, or letting them get to know the real you. Right, because like if if, if it’s someone who we perceive to be perfect, we’re going to be careful, right? We’re going to be careful with being too real with them, like we’re going to be a little guarded, we’re going to be a little cautious. And so if you think about your closest friends, and what it is about them that makes you love and adore them, typically, it’s, it’s their quirks, it’s it’s some of the things that make them very unique. It’s not perfection, it’s not, you know, it’s not that they’re perfectly poised all of the time.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:11
So, you know, when I think about my dearest friends, none of them are perfect. So, you know, first of all, don’t get me wrong. And if any of them are listening, definitely don’t get me wrong. They are all incredibly remarkable individuals, and I greatly admire them and their accomplishments. But if they were perfect, they would not be my closest friends, I can actually guarantee that because I probably would never have let my guard down enough to get to know them. Right? So when we present ourselves as perfect, we don’t give anyone outs anything to connect to.
Dr. Melissa Smith 7:55
So I want you to really think about this for a minute. While I tell you a little bit about my friend Lisa. So Lisa and I have been friends for almost 20 years now. So she is gifted and intelligent and the kindest, gentlest and most loving woman I have ever met like sincerely she is. She’s just so loving and has a heart of gold. She is also the quirkiest woman I’ve ever met. This woman has a love affair with Del Taco. For real, it has been a constant source of entertainment of noxious bantering, and lots and lots of teasing to decide where to go to dinner with this woman. So without fail over the years, she always suggests the fish tacos at Del Taco and you know without fail, every time she suggests that I’m like, absolutely no way I’m not having fish tacos at Del Taco ever like, over my dead body. She also gives me dimestore salve for Christmas and promises me that it is the best thing in the world for my lips. And you know what? She’s absolutely correct. I love Lisa so much. And what I most love about Lisa, are all of her quirks, like the things that are so utterly unique and absolutely authentic to her. There is just no one else on the planet like her. She doesn’t feel the need to perform or to be perfect. She is very accomplished. And she is striving she sets goals and she accomplishes goals. And yet she is so comfortable in her own skin. And I really have admired the ways that she embraces vulnerability, and never has anything to prove she can’t help but invite others into her circle of influence because she is so open with herself. And this, my friends is vulnerability in action. Really, it is a miracle, right? Because like when we can show up authentically as ourselves, and just like, you know what, this is me, I don’t have anything to hide, I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to get everything right. It draws people to us. Right? It draws people to us. Because the reality is like, we’re attracted to authenticity, we’re attracted to people who can own their own space, who can own their own stories.
Dr. Melissa Smith 10:31
So the problem for most of us is that we believe our vulnerabilities are what get in the way of connecting with others, when in reality, the only way to truly connect with others is through vulnerability. So there’s an underlying belief that vulnerability equals worthlessness. And so we spend a lot of time and energy hustling for our worthiness. And the main ways we do that is through performing, pretending and perfecting. So for most of us, we spend a lot of time and energy performing, pretending and perfecting, right, so we pretend that we don’t have vulnerabilities. And that actually gets in the way of meaningful connection. And so it keeps us isolated, keeps us alone. And and that’s, that’s a hard way to live. So today, I want to talk about three ways that we protect ourselves from vulnerability. So they are, you know, we perform, we pretend and we perfect. So first of all, let’s talk about performing. So these are the some of the things that we do. So I’ll do what I have to do to get you to approve of me, I’m not acceptable the way I am, I’m not enough as I am. I’m not acceptable. So I’ll perform as a way of seeking your approval, and acceptance. So these people are really the approval seekers, and how it shows up in relationships. So it really shows up with mind reading. So we read between the lines, we over interpret, we, you know, we we interpret like sideways glances that sort of thing, we filter what others say. And this takes a lot of emotional, cognitive and physical energy. But this is the truth as humans, we’re really lousy mind readers. And ultimately, it prevents authentic connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 12:36
So the second thing that we do is we pretend, so if you knew the real me, you would reject me. So that’s kind of the underlying belief. Another core belief is the real me is too much to handle. I’m either too depressing, too overwhelming, too intrusive, too dramatic, right? Whatever. Whatever core belief might be there, a lot of these beliefs and messages might be a result of messages you heard in childhood, one of these core beliefs often can be, you know, the real me is too shameful, I must pretend to be other than who I am. Another core belief is that it doesn’t matter what I believe or feel, it only matters who you need me to be in a specific situation. So these people really are the social chameleons. And you know, that they really want to belong, that they will settle for trying to fit in, right, and this idea that fitting in is not the same thing as belonging. So these are the people that are people pleasers. And how it shows up in relationships is that, you know, we tend to pretend that everything is okay. Sometimes we we pretend that we know what we’re doing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 13:56
So think about this, think about how maybe shows up at work, that maybe you pretend that you know what you’re doing, or that you can do it on your own. So you don’t ask for help. You know, this can be really disastrous at work. It can undermine your effectiveness, it can, it can undermine the teams that you lead, and really lead you to feeling brittle and fragile when it comes to feedback. Because it makes you very resistant to feedback. And it can also lead you to feeling resentful because you get really good at pretending that you have it all figured out. But of course you don’t. And so you also get stressed and overwhelmed and tired from trying to do it all on your own. And so this you know, stress inevitably comes out as frustration, resentment, passive, aggressive behavior, and sideswipes at loved ones and colleagues When that stress really intensifies. So the reality is that you can’t do it all on your own. Right. And that doesn’t make you weak, it just makes you human. There’s no shame and you weren’t meant to have it all figured out, you weren’t meant to do it all on your own. And this is, this is the real kicker, when you try to do it all alone, you lose the opportunity to connect with others, to receive support, and to give support, and this becomes a huge loss, this becomes a huge loss in our relationships. So the third way that we try and protect against vulnerability is we perfect. So some of the underlying beliefs associated with this include that there is a standard of perfection. And in order to be acceptable, I must hit that target. I feel better about myself, when others admire me perceive me as perfect, and want to be like me, I like to stand apart from others, although it is lonely. So we kind of think about these people as being on the pedestal, so they’re often admired. But if you think about a pedestal, a pedestal is at a distance, right? It’s removed from people, right? So it really lacks connection. So these people are often on a stage, they’re under a spotlight. They’re on the pedestal, they’re being admired. But they’re not connecting. Like there’s no real ability for this balanced connection, this equal connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 16:52
One of the underlying beliefs is if I’m perfect, I can protect myself from getting hurt, right? So I can protect myself from vulnerability, I can become worthy of love if I’m perfect. Although I’m never good enough. That’s the that’s the real bad thing about perfectionism. There’s lots of bad things about perfectionism. But it’s, you’re never good enough, right? There’s always someone smarter, always someone thinner, always someone, you know, more accomplished. And so the focus is on being better than others. And it really sets up an environment of competition and comparison, which erodes any opportunity for meaningful connection. So this, this approach is absolutely corrosive, to meaningful connection in relationships. And often with perfectionism, that image becomes more important than the reality.
Dr. Melissa Smith 17:54
So one of the ways that this shows up is, you know, we focus more on presenting that image of perfection, then I’m living an authentic life, focused on quality work and loving connections. And so right, we run the risk of missing the forest for the trees. In these moments, if you think about how this might show up in the work setting, you know, everything looks great from, you know, 50 yards away. But when you get into the details of a project, right, maybe things are incomplete, or they’re not done or they’re not fully fleshed out, because that image is more important than actually doing quality work. And so there are some important ways that this shows up that can be really undermining to the success of the individual, but also the success of the organization and of teams in general.
Dr. Melissa Smith 18:55
So, I want to give you an example of this from a family photoshoot. This was so this was many years ago, when when my kids were really little. But it’s stuck with me all these years. And actually, every time we do a new family photo, I’m reminded of it and it’s a pretty funny memory for me now. But so this was a time where, you know, I was new in my career. My husband was new in his career. We had little kids at home and so we were really, we were juggling a lot and so I remember I was coming to the photoshoot from work and my husband was bringing the kids and they were coming from a hike or something right so like they had been out playing all day. They had not been home like showering and getting ready for a photoshoot. I can guarantee you that. But and that might tell you everything you need to know about how this story unfolds. But as we arrived, so we, we were doing this outdoor photo shoot. And we were like in this vacant lot, because we were doing it up against this brick wall, that as we arrived, our photographer was just finishing with another family. And let me tell you, they were the picture of perfection. So the family was dressed to the nines and matching dresses and ties, not one hair was out of place. And these smiles that were just like, glued onto their faces. And I think we can all picture this family. And then there was us. And we were a train wreck. So first of all, you know, we were changing into our clothes in this parking lot, while trying to wrestle our toddlers into a corner. So we could use diaper wipes to clean dark streaks off of their faces. I kid you not it was that bad. Our photographer should have gotten a photo of that, because that was quite a sight. And I remember like I was I was wrestling one of the little kids because we had like two two year olds at that time, I was asking my husband like, where have you been he’s like, oh, we’ve been hiking and I was like, oh my gosh, like of all the days to go hiking, and the dog was there and there was like dog hair everywhere and I was just fit to be tied. So anyway, we got ourselves dressed and halfway presentable, which is really a stretch, because, you know, we probably didn’t even have the right clothes or, you know, even any clothes that worked.
Dr. Melissa Smith 21:46
And as we were, you know, pulling ourselves together and doing up our belts and all that fun stuff. This perfect family walked by and left in there, you know, shiny Lexus. And good riddance is what I thought. And so you know, then we we took our spot, and we had a really fun photoshoot and got some fun photos. And at the end of at the end of the photoshoot, our photographer commented that it was such a fun shoot, and that typically family shoots are so stressful because mom’s mostly, let’s, let’s be seriously serious, it’s always the moms are worried about everyone looking perfect in their clothes, and not getting themselves dirty. And, you know, I just laughed, because first of all, we took about two minutes to decide what we were going to wear, and then took about 30 seconds to get ready, you know, literally in the parking lot with wet wipes. But what I shared with her was this, that, you know, this photo is going to be hanging on my wall for years to come. And when I walk by it, I do not want the memory of that photo to be one of misery, or one of shame of my family or shame that my family didn’t look perfect, or guilt because I was yelling at my kids or was trying to make them be anyone other than who they are. And so I told her that, like I’m choosing to let go of my desire for a perfect family photo. Because like that desire is there. Like I would love to have, like a perfect family photo. But I’m letting go of that. So I can actually have genuine and real family connection, and love and a memory of that. And so, for me that was, you know, an intention that I had to be very mindful about and had to set for myself. And recognize that that the genuine connection and running the risk of you know, this other family thinking we’re a train wreck and my photographer thinking we’re a train wreck, which I don’t think she did. But like I had to run that risk, because it wasn’t worth it to potentially shame my kids or to, you know, carry this, this negative memory all of these years.
Dr. Melissa Smith 24:50
So when we think about vulnerability, and when we think about these three ways that we protect against vulnerability The root of all of these is shame. So Brene Brown, right, the world’s leading researcher on shame, defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed, and therefore unworthy of love, and belonging. So now let’s, let’s really talk about how, how can we work with this? how, you know, what are the gifts of vulnerability? And how can we, first of all understand shame? How can we develop some shame, resilience, right? And what are some great actionable skills that can help you to embrace vulnerability and recognize the gifts of vulnerability in your life. So let’s, let’s focus on that here, self.
Dr. Melissa Smith 25:56
First of all, there are three keys to understanding shame. The first key is, we all have it. It’s universal, and one of the most primitive human emotions, and some describe it as the master emotion. And I think understanding that key is really helpful because sometimes people even feel shame about having shame, but to know that, that is a universal emotion that we all have is is comforting, that can be really helpful. The second key to understanding shame is that we’re all afraid to talk about it, it’s a, it’s a vulnerable thing, it’s a hard thing. And the third key is that the less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. So shame thrives in secrecy. So one of the most important ways that you take power back and that you take strength, in vulnerability, is by speaking about shame, and speaking about the ways that you are vulnerable. Because that makes you a little less shameful, right. And it also frees you up to connect with others. And if you remember, from the beginning of the podcast, we connect in our vulnerability, which is a beautiful thing.
Dr. Melissa Smith 27:19
So now let’s talk about four elements to shame resilience, and this is this is, you know, a really important way that we start to take strength and vulnerability by becoming resilient to shame. So there are four elements to shame, resilience. So these are things that you can start to incorporate in your life. So first of all, understand shame, right? So these, these three keys to understanding shame, so understand shame, and recognize the messages that trigger shame for you. So for example, one of my shame triggers is that I’m not competent, right? That’s a big shame trigger for me. And so whenever that message triggers for me, I’m like, Okay, I need to I need to pay attention, because that makes me pretty vulnerable to shame. So when you have awareness about what those shame triggers are for you, you become resilient to those triggers, right? Like you’re less likely to be fooled by them.
Dr. Melissa Smith 28:29
The second element to shame resilience is to practice critical awareness by reality checking messages and expectations, such as imperfect equals inadequate, right? So for example, like, Oh, I totally messed up on that test. I’m such a failure. No, I, I just failed the test. It doesn’t mean I’m stupid, it doesn’t mean I’m a failure, it means I failed the test. Right? So we stick with the facts, we focus on the behaviors, we keep our worth out of it.
Dr. Melissa Smith 29:06
The third element to shame resilience is reach out and share your story with someone trustworthy. So this really goes with that third key of understanding shame is that, you know, the less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives. And so it’s very empowering to be able to speak your shame with someone who’s trustworthy. So, you know, I shared with you my story of my family photo shoot. I don’t know how many of you have family photo shoots coming up. But my hope is, if if you do, and you’re feeling this pressure around, oh my goodness, like we got to have the perfect outfits and we got to have the perfect look and we got to have the perfect this. That as you’ve heard my, story and my experience, you might give yourself a little more permission to be less perfect, you might give yourself permission to actually enjoy the photoshoot and to relinquish yourself from the pressure of having everything just right. And so in a very real way, when we share our stories, we can empower other people, right to, to live more authentically.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:35
And then the fourth element of shame, resilience is speak shame. Talk about how you’re feeling and ask for what you need. So when you’re hurt, talk about that. Ask for what you need. Sometimes what you need is understanding sometimes what you need is patience. Sometimes what you need is just someone to hear you.
Dr. Melissa Smith 30:59
So as we, as we think about ways to help you recognize the gifts of vulnerability, we’ve talked about three keys to understanding shame. We’ve talked about four elements to shame, resilience. And now third, I want to talk about a skill that can be very helpful, which is to stop mind reading, and I mentioned this earlier. But you know, we’re so good at reading between the lines, and filtering, and over interpreting, rather than just learning to take people out there word. And let me give you an example of this. So this was early in my marriage, and I come from a long line of mind readers. We’re really bad at it, but we think we’re really good at mind reading. But I remember early in, in my marriage, you know, we had some friends, like we didn’t know them really well. But you know, we were getting to know them. And they invited us over for dinner, like on a Sunday evening. So my husband and I were talking about it. And he’s like, Okay, so we’re gonna go to dinner, right? Like, we’re gonna, we’re gonna go over to their house for dinner. And I said, Oh, no, I don’t think we’ll go. And he, you know, he looked totally confused. And he’s like, What? He’s like, why not? Like, we like them. And they like us. And they invited us to dinner, and we like food. So why, why are we not going over their house at dinner. And I, this is what I still remember. Like, they don’t really mean it. They were just being nice. How many of you have thought that or felt that when someone has said something, whether it’s like a compliment to you, or, you know, offering to help you with something or do something for you? Whether you say it out loud, or just in your mind to say, you don’t really mean that, you know, you’re just being nice. You’re just saying, right? And I said it out loud. Like they don’t really mean. And so basically, I was going to reject this opportunity for connection, because of my mind reading, because I assumed I knew better their intention for me. Right? Which if you really stop and think about that, that is so arrogant, so arrogant, and really actually quite disrespectful of the other people and my husband, just like he just stopped. And he just looked at me like, first of all, like you are crazy woman. But he didn’t say that he was you know, he was gentle with me in that. But he just said, you know, some people just mean what they say. And maybe you can just take people at their word.
Dr. Melissa Smith 34:03
And I remember that feeling like a revelation to me. Because honestly, to that point in my life, I really did not believe that that was a possibility. I never thought that you could just take people at their word. I always thought you needed to read between the lines, you needed to see what their angle was that you couldn’t really trust people to be direct about what they meant, or what they were saying. You know, and so this really was a revelation for me and something that’s been immensely helpful for me. And this is what I have learned since then over the years. So first of all, when I take people at their word, my life is better, because I’m not trying to take responsibility for them. Right? It really settles a lot of emotional and cognitive energy for me, because I’m not trying to do their job for them. Right? Like I can, I can let them take responsibility for them. And then I am free to just respond to what they say. What I’ve also learned is, right, like, not everyone means what they say that is also true. But we need to hold people accountable for what they say, you know, so when we do the mind reading thing, we actually feed into this idea that people aren’t responsible for their work. And and that really does not serve anyone well. And so, you know, the lesson here is stop mind reading it, you know, because it, first of all, it’s stressful, right? You’re not any good at it. And it undermines the potential for connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 36:07
Okay, now let’s talk about the next solution here. So, you know, we’ve already talked about these, but stop pretending, stop performing and stop perfecting, we’ve already talked about these in detail. But say what you mean, do what you intend, and acknowledge your mistakes. Right, take responsibility for yourself, and let others take responsibility for themselves. Right. So this is all about boundaries, learning to stay in our own lane. I often ask myself, okay, what is my responsibility? And what is this other person’s responsibility? And I think that can that’s actually very helpful for really clarifying what needs to happen in various situations. Okay, so the next, the next solution is to challenge perfectionism. Are you holding yourself to unrealistic expectations? Are you holding others to unrealistic expectations. And if you struggle with perfectionism, you are likely holding others to unrealistic expectations, in addition to yourself. So this is the really hard part about perfectionism is that we tend to be as hard on others as we are on ourselves. We like to pretend that we’re not but usually we are. And so perfectionism really erodes connection in relationships. So, you know, this is a gut check, would you rather be admired than loved? Would you rather be admired than then to connect in a relationship.
Dr. Melissa Smith 37:54
And then the last solution that I want to talk about today is to always be compassionate, right? So we want you to be compassionate with yourself. And with others, there’s absolutely no room for judgment, right? Because that really gets you caught back into this shame loop. And really, like, you’ve got enough of the shame going on. We’re all learning, we’re all growing. And so, you know, we always start and end with compassion and we want compassion throughout. We’ve talked about a lot of solutions to help you realize the gifts of vulnerability and as part of that I have a great freebie for you today. That freebie is called putting an end to performing, pretending and perfecting, and it will take you through the steps to help you identify ways that you might be hiding yourself from genuine connection through these three blocks and how they might show up in your life. And of course, most importantly, how to overcome each of them so that you can harness the gifts of vulnerability and create genuine connection.
Dr. Melissa Smith 39:03
So stay tuned to find out how to get this awesome freebie. Make sure you head over to our website, check out the show notes with all the great resources I mentioned in this episode. And to download your freebie on how to put an end to performing pretending and perfecting www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-3. One more time. That’s www.drmelissasmith.com/episode-3 as in the number three. And lastly, head on over to iTunes and give us a review. I’m Dr. Melissa Smith. Remember love and work, work and love. That’s all there is. Until next time, take good care.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai